The historic episcopate, locally adapted...

The Episcopal Church of Haiti is gearing up for the future, and in doing so will have to challenge the assumptions of what it means to be a bishop, assumptions based on their experience as a jurisdiction of the Episcopal Church (AKA The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America). 

The challenge is faced always in overseas dioceses of The Episcopal Church, most of them being in "nations or peoples" significantly different from this nation - The United States of America.

That rethinking is going on everwhere.

There has been considerable chatter in Episcopal land about whether or not bishops ought to be able to be both bishop and hold other church positions, say as rector of a parish or chaplain at a university. The Diocese of Western Kansas has just concluded a period where its Bishop was also rector.

In England there is an effort to seek out clergy with particular talents and put them forward as bishop material. For many years the bishop of the church in Portugal was also an executive in the business world. And of course in our own past in TEC we have had diocesan bishops who were also parish clergy.

The reality is, I suppose, that over the centuries many strategies for sustaining an episcopate have been tried. The backfire seems to have come with problems of divided loyalties, difficulties in accountability, and of course in "double-dipping," a bit of that good ol' sin of greed. What is important to note is that the value placed on the episcopate is ancient and strong, strong enough to lead the church in various circumstances to make adjustments in its understanding of the role of bishop and the way in which it works out in practice.

A hint of that willingness to make adjustments is found in the Lambeth Quadrilateral, the only Anglican Communion document to make it into the Prayer Book. 

The fourth article of the Lambeth Quadrilateral states that one of the matters essential to unity in the Church is "the Historic Episcopate, locally adapted to the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church."

The Episcopal Church, the source of the Lambeth Quadrilateral, knew whereof it was speaking. It's bishops were unlike the bishops in its mother church. The episcopate in the US came without the patina that establishment brought in England. They were not Lords, they did not organize under an Archbishop nor under the protection of the State. Indeed so far were they from the bishop image of their parent church that it was sometimes suggested that The Episcopal Church was a congregational church, with bishops. 

On a positive side American bishops more often saw themselves primarily as missionaries, a useful self image in a land that was decidedly un-CofE, and increasingly un-English. The American Church adapted the methods of episcopal administration to the varying needs of this new Republic. 

Of course then was then and now is now. The Book of Common Prayer for The Episcopal Church now has this ordination prayer for making a bishop: 

"Therefore, Father, make N. a bishop in your Church. Pour out upon him the power of your princely Spirit, whom you bestowed upon your beloved Son Jesus Christ, with whom he endowed the apostles, and by whom your Church is built up in every place, to the glory and unceasing praise of your Name."

"The power of your princely Spirit" is a telling phrase. We must hope that it is a metaphor for some characteristic of God having to do with rule, but what exactly is unclear.

Unfortunately what has too often happened is that the bishop being ordained has concluded that he or she is possesses "princely powers," spiritual or otherwise, of the sort bestowed on Jesus, and the apostles, etc. The operant word here is "prince."   The modern 21st Century American episcopate is by all signs a "princely" role. The way they are treated and the expectations that are had of them is decidedly princely! 

And, truth be told, we pay for what we get. Vestments supposedly have many purposes, but among them is that they set apart the celebrants, priests, deacons, sub-deacons, acolytes, lay readers, and BISHOPS from the regular paid up members of the congregations. And they do so in increasingly pomp filled ways. Why should we be surprised then to discover that difference and separation is seen by many as silly, pompous, irrelevant or arrogant?

We do pomp well, but at a cost. Pomp - miters, copes, rings, chasubles and the like - are signs of princely power - not I might add as befits the Lord of our life, Jesus Christ, but as befits princes of this world. So if we want princely bishops we get them. No wonder then that they get paid more, live in the better house, have the greater honor, etc. And not to pick on bishops alone, no wonder we get clergy who believe (sometimes not too quietly) that they are princely heads of their respective families of believers.

Overseas jurisdictions are reconsidering the role and perks of bishops. I think we need to be about that too. It is time to rethink the symbols of princely power attached to the episcopate in TEC. 

The question, of course, is whether or not any of those accrudaments have any relevance to the role of bishop in the church.  And if it is relevant in one place, what makes any of us think it is relevant in another?  Why should the expectations we have in the US of the ranking of episcopal office have any relevance to the place of episcopal office in other societies or cultures?  

In the decisions to strengthen the episcopate in growing churches that are overseas jurisdictions of The Episcopal Church, we need to attend to the possibilities that our expectations of the rights and priviledges of the office may not be relevant to those settings, and support new visions for how that office is exercised, both there and here.  



  1. Preach it, Brother! And it isn't just in the churches outside of the USA. In FTW we are being told we don't have enough money to call a bishop. The PB suggested we find other ways of looking at the role of bishop but the canons prohibit some of the options.

    The rampant high church (I do not call it Anglo-Catholic because this is not Anglo-Catholic by any stretch of the imagination)proclivities that seem to propel much of the 'prince bishop mentality' was fostered here by the now ACNA/Southern Cone wing.

    But there have been few explorations into worker bishops or worker priests. We are really too small to have a full time bishop. We don't have many self-supporting parishes.

    There are other dioceses with Provisional bishops (bishops who are retired who serve without election or often, even mandate) who are in the same pickle. Since when has ministry cost anything?

    Since when has ministry become a commodity rather than a sacred calling? When I became a priest, I did not expect to 'do well'. I was not about making money; I was about doing that which God had called me to do: Christ's ministry. Sometimes I got paid. Sometimes I was a worker priest. But I was always one who did the work that was needed. Now, we find clergy that are on the 'career track' stepping on others the same way you see in big business.

  2. We definitely need less "princely," though I would hate to lose the costumes. Liturgies need more, not less, color and fabric. Maybe the whole congregation needs more festive gear. As for designated some specialist bishops, I would hope for the appointment of a holy fool for the House of Bishops. No kidding.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.